Ken Collins appeared to be very drunk as the sodium pentothal was still in his system. His wife Jane was a very understanding woman, her husband couldn’t offered any explanation for his condition. The A-12 Oxcart was so secret he couldn’t talk about it.
In 1959, Lockheed began work on the design of a long-range, high-altitude plane, then known as the A-11. It was a Cold War project. Heading the project team was Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s Vice President for Advanced Development Projects. Johnson had previously led the development of the U-2 spy plane. Five years after work began on the A-11, on Feb. 29, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson told reporters that the aircraft (by that time modified to the A-12 Oxcart production version with a reduced radar cross section) had attained speeds of over 2,000 mph and altitudes of more than 70,000 feet in tests at Area 51.
Noteworthy during the first three years of pre-operational testing, three A-12s crashed – two from mechanical malfunctions and one because of ground crew error. All pilots ejected safely. On May 24, 1963, A-12 number 926 involved in a subsonic engine test flight and piloted by Ken Collins, crashed fourteen miles south of Wendover, Utah.
‘Colonel Ken Collins was the very first person to bail out of a Blackbird. The A-12,’ says our friend Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) on her Facebook Page Habubrats.
‘Later after the A-12 program was canceled in 1968 he was my neighbor at Beale AFB, California. Ken had re-joined the Air Force and was an SR-71 pilot. Another interesting thing is that he was checked out in the SR-71 with my father Richard “ Butch” Sheffield. They flew four flights together. My Dad writes in his unpublished book, that he was fully aware that Ken Collins was from the A-12 program because he had been briefed on Oxcart in 1965 at the Skunk Works. Only the first four men select to fly the SR-71 were briefed on A-12. The rest of the men in the SR-71 program did not know about it. The interesting thing about this is that Dad cannot discuss it with Ken. That’s how secret the A-12 program was!
‘The A-12 program was so secret that Ken could not tell his wife Jane, what his occupation was. The cover story was that he worked at Hughes aircraft.’
Sheffield Miller continues;
‘In 1963 he bailed out over Utah, he was unharmed and to his amazement a man pulled him up in a pick-up truck with his A-12 canopy in the back of the truck and asked him if he needed a ride back to his airplane. Ken was totally unflappable, calmly said no, that the F-105 that had just crashed … It had a nuclear weapon on it! He asked for a ride to the nearest highway patrol office and climbed in the back of the pick-up truck.
‘Took a dime out of his survival kit called the secret number that he had memorized and told them where he was and where the A-12 had crashed. The crash was the result of a pitch up of the nose and it went into an uncontrollable, flat, inverted spin.
‘The CIA asked if they could inject him with sodium pentothal. Collins said yes. After the interrogation Ken was dropped off at his home in Southern California where his wife Jane and their four children lived. He appeared to be very drunk as the sodium pentothal was still in his system. His wife Jane was a very understanding woman, her husband couldn’t offered any explanation for his condition. Ken Collins couldn’t talk about it.’
Sheffield Miller concludes;
‘These are the kind of men America needs to be proud of the ones that did their job, risked their life, not for the glory… but for love of country, thank you Ken.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Ken Collins